The Jim Marshall Story Pt. 2
"In 1960 I started building bass and PA cabinets in my garage because nothing was really made as a column speaker, and I had the idea of using two 12" speakers. Also, there was nothing produced whatsoever in those days for bass guitar. The bass guitarists used to complain that they were being out-gunned all the time by the lead guitar and they asked me for help. So I started building bass cabinets. They usually used a single 18" speaker in a very small enclosure completely packed with sawdust and wood shavings. The back of the speaker cone was covered with a canvas back to prevent wood shavings from getting inside, and later used a 25 watt Leak amp as the power."
The sales sheet described them as the "Custom-Line Range" of amplification and were available in 12", 15" or 18" enclosures with Goodmans speakers and they looked strikingly similar to the "Selmers" of the time. Initially they were offered with "Linear" amplifiers, then "Leaks", and production lasted for about a year. The catalogue announced that the cabinets were endorsed by "The Fabulous Flee-rekkers" and "The Sensational Flintstones"! It is perhaps no coincidence that Jim's son Terry played saxophone with the "Flee-rekkers" and Rod Freeman, who was a salesman at Jim's shop, played guitar and sang with the "Flintstones".
"Having taught so many drummers, I used to buy Premier drums from the Selmer shop in Charing Cross Road and sell them to my students. The manager said that it was rather silly spending all this money there so why didn't I open up my own drum shop? That's how I started in retail. Then the drummers brought their groups in, including Pete Townshend, and said why don't you stock guitars and amplifiers, which I knew nothing about. This would have been July, 1960.
"So I took the groups advice and they said they wanted Fender and Gibson. They were usually Fender Stratocaster guitars and Tremolux amps as well as quite a few Gibson semi-acoustics such as the 335. It was what they wanted and Ben Davis, who was the boss of Selmer at the time who imported most of the top models, was worried about how much I was buying, but I had already sold what was ordered. I then started stocking them in depth, as a result of which the West End dealers gave me 6 months to last.
"Ken Bran used to come into the shop with his band 'Peppy and the New York Twisters'. At that time I think Ken was eager to stop travelling with the band and he said that if ever you want a service engineer don't forget me. About a year later, after he'd worked with Pan Am, he came to work for me in 1962.
"It was Ken who said to me that it was rather silly to keep on buying in amplifiers when we could probably produce our own. So I told Ken to produce something and let me listen to it. We went all out to build a lead amp; I made the chassis while Ken and a bright young engineer called Dudley Craven designed and built the circuitry. I had already had chats with Pete Townshend, Brian Poole and the Tremoloes and Jim Sullivan and they said that they wanted something different in the sound because Fender was too clean, and listening to what they said imparted in my mind the idea of the sound they wanted.
"Obviously, we looked at the Fender amps because they were my favourite amplifier and the Bassman seemed to be nearer the sound that people were talking about, rather than their lead amplifier. So we were influenced by it, but after all, there is nothing new in valve technology; it's all been done before."
So the first prototype was built in September of 1962 and was a bare chassis without a cabinet to allow modifications to be made more easily. The first 4x12 followed shortly thereafter.
"We tried a 2x12 with the 50 watt lead but it didn't give us the sound we wanted or the projection that was required; we kept blowing the speakers. Then we had the idea of putting four 12" speakers into the smallest enclosure we could. There was nothing brilliant about designing the first 4x12, it was purely the most convenient size to get into the transport that groups had in those days. I thought that it didn't look very nice with just the amp sitting on top, so I did the angle to match the dimensions of the amplifier and make it look a neater package. We were really proud when we finished it."